Neurotransmitter regulation of dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 1993 Jan-Apr;18(1):75-113. doi: 10.1016/0165-0173(93)90008-n.


Over the last 10 years there has been important progress towards understanding how neurotransmitters regulate dopaminergic output. Reasonable estimates can be made of the synaptic arrangement of afferents to dopamine and non-dopamine cells in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). These models are derived from correlative findings using a variety of techniques. In addition to improved lesioning and pathway-tracing techniques, the capacity to measure mRNA in situ allows the localization of transmitters and receptors to neurons and/or axon terminals in the VTA. The application of intracellular electrophysiology to VTA tissue slices has permitted great strides towards understanding the influence of transmitters on dopamine cell function, as well as towards elucidating relative synaptic organization. Finally, the advent of in vivo dialysis has verified the effects of transmitters on dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid transmission in the VTA. Although reasonable estimates can be made of a single transmitter's actions under largely pharmacological conditions, our knowledge of how transmitters work in concert in the VTA to regulate the functional state of dopamine cells is only just emerging. The fact that individual transmitters can have seemingly opposite effects on dopaminergic function demonstrates that the actions of neurotransmitters in the VTA are, to some extent, state-dependent. Thus, different transmitters perform similar functions or the same transmitter may perform opposing functions when environmental circumstances are altered. Understanding the dynamic range of a transmitter's action and how this couples in concert with other transmitters to modulate dopamine neurons in the VTA is essential to defining the role of dopamine cells in the etiology and maintenance of neuropsychiatric disorders. Further, it will permit a more rational exploration of drugs possessing utility in treating disorders involving dopamine transmission.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Feedback
  • Nerve Endings / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology*
  • Substantia Nigra / physiology
  • Tegmentum Mesencephali / cytology
  • Tegmentum Mesencephali / physiology*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Dopamine